Thinning Hair Causes and Treatments – Shape Magazine


Hair Health Hotline is your direct access to dermatologists, trichologists, hairstylists, and other beauty pros. Each story in this series tackles a common hair or scalp concern and offers science-backed solutions to care for your strands.
Of all the questions submitted for this column, hair thinning is by far the most popular topic, and it’s not difficult to guess why. Losing your hair can be a bummer, albeit a common bummer. And since the internet is brimming with suggestions, trying to figure out how to address sparse hair can feel like a hopeless game of trial and error. (Read: I Tried Vegamour’s Best-Selling Growth Serum, and It Brought My Thinning Hairline Back to Life)
If you want to cut straight to what’s actually worth trying, keep reading for a rundown on thinning hair from Craig Ziering, D.O., F.A.A.D., dermatologist, hair transplant surgeon, and owner of Ziering Medical.
A: Fortunately hair thinning can sometimes be reversed, depending on the cause. A slew of products and treatments promise to restore thickness or fullness, and some of them can truly deliver, according to Dr. Ziering.
It's normal to lose up to 100 hairs per day as part of the normal hair growth cycle, according to Dr. Ziering. Under normal circumstances, every strand grows for a few years, "rests" for a few months, and then sheds, before a new strand sprouts from the same follicle, he says.If the growing phase is interrupted, you can start to lose strands at a faster rate and notice hair thinning.
You might also start sprouting finer hair than you used to, which can likewise contribute to overall thinning. "With the most common cause of thinning, which is genetic hair loss, over time the hairs just become wimpier, weaker, and what is called 'miniaturized,'" says Dr. Ziering. "So they go from being strong what are referred to as 'terminal' hairs to wimpy, what are called 'vellus,' baby-like hairs…Hair loss can occur with the absence of hair follicles, but it's more common to see the follicles become smaller in diameter."
There are many possible causes of hair thinning, so you may have to touch base with a doctor to understand the cause of your concern, whether it’s reversible, and if so, how to treat it. Most commonly, one of the following issues is to blame for the thinning of hair, according to Dr. Ziering. (This summary barely scratches the surface of this topic. Here’s a more detailed explanation of the most common causes of hair loss.)
"If you have genetic hair loss or other causes that result in miniaturization of the diameter of the hair, there are treatments you can use to reverse that," says Dr. Ziering. These are the most promising options.
In the realm of topical products, those containing minoxidil or growth factors will be the most likely to reverse hair thinning, says Dr. Ziering. Minoxidil and some types of growth factors each have the potential to initiate the growth phase of the hair growth cycle. Some of these products are available over the counter while others require a prescription.
Other hair growth products that don’t contain these ingredients can help hair look thicker, but are unlikely to affect growth, says Dr. Ziering. “There are cosmetic aids such as thickening serums that actually just add water to the hair shaft to make them become engorged, so that’s just temporary smoke and mirrors to some extent,” he says. “There are also protein fibers that people can use to add volume to the hair. And then you can pigment the scalp [using root concealers] to minimize the contrast between the scalp and the hair.”
Various in-office treatments incorporate growth factors to bring about hair growth. These include platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injections, which involve drawing your blood and spinning it out to extract platelets (a component of blood involved in wound healing) and growth factors before re-injecting the substance. Platelet-rich fibrin (PRF) injections are similar but spun at a lower speed, which results in a higher concentration of platelets.
A third option is a treatment called Keralase where the practitioner creates little tiny holes in the surface of the scalp and then applies various growth factors to help reverse that thinning process and thicken the diameter of those hair shafts once again,” says Dr. Ziering.
Low-level laser therapy devices emit red light, which may stimulate the growth phase in follicles that have entered the resting stage of the hair growth cycle, prolong the growth phase, and prevent premature entry into the shedding phase. You can try an in-office treatment or look into a laser comb or cap to use at home.
When hair thinning results from nutritional deficiencies, consuming more of these nutrients through food or supplements may solve the issue. Protein, iron, and folic acid are some of the most important nutrients for healthy hair growth, says Dr. Ziering. (
Unfortunately, if you have bald spots with absolutely zero growth, it's less likely (though not completely out of the question) that you'll be able to reignite growth with the above solutions, says Dr. Ziering. If you're hoping to add hair back to the area, a hair transplant may be your best option.
In a perfect world, a universal solution would trigger weed-like hair growth in anyone disappointed by thinning. While that's not a reality (yet), there are several routes you can explore that may help restore your hair to its former glory.
Have a hair health question you want answered? Send your Q to [email protected] for a chance to have it featured in a future installment of Hair Health Hotline.
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